Bank of America Chicago Marathon Guide and Recap

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Wow, has it really been 2 years since my last marathon? I still remember it so vividly. In honor of the upcoming Chicago Marathon, I am reposting my race recap and race review so that any of the 40,000 runners who will run our fair streets this year might have some idea of what to expect. There are untold numbers of ways that you can get information on the marathon, and every person has their own story–which I think is pretty darn cool–this is mine, and my take on how things are run and managed.

Bank of America Chicago Marathon Guide

Chicago Marathon General Information

The Bank of America Chicago Marathon is one of the jewels of the World Marathon Majors, now sponsored by Abbot Global. 45,000 runners toe the line of the marathon, and entry is gained by lottery, charity, and qualification (I qualified in). Lottery entrants are notified in March.

Chicago tops the chart as a user-friendly race for elites, average runners and spectators alike with its looped course, stellar race organization and welcoming atmosphere. The start and finish areas are both in Grant Park, and staying in a downtown hotel makes it easy to walk to and from the race, with plenty of restaurants and bars close by for celebrating. Women’s Runing

It is a great course for those that want to race for PR’s or those that want to take an incredible tour of an incredible city. You run through 29 of Chicago’s neighborhoods on a flat, fast course (save for Mount Roosevelt, lol, which is the bridge at the very end of the course). As someone who lives downtown, I loved this chance to get out and about!

The race is not inexpensive, however, this year, the cost was $185 (or $210 if you are international). But you get a helluva lot for that money! A world class marathon, race shirt, Goose Island 312 (for those of age), and more. Scheduling of the race is great–it happens the second weekend of October, Columbus Day weekend, so many people have that Monday for travel. Plus you taper before everyone else starts to freak out!

Abbot Global Chicago Marathon Expo

The Chicago Marathon expo takes place at McCormick Place, the massive convention center about a mile south of the Loop (Central Business District) and Millennium Park and the Museum Campus. There are free shuttles from 4 locations from the Nike Store on the Mag Mile to the base of the Loop. This is a FANTASTIC service, and though they are not necessarily fast, they are much appreciated! Shuttles run every 15-20 minutes 8:30-8:30/9:30 on expo days (Friday and Saturday before the race).

The Expo itself is very well organized and run, and they have some great new automated systems to help streamline the process. Nike is one of the major sponsors for the marathon, so they make a big presence and also have the official marathon gear. Other merchandisers are there, and they have fabulous booths as well, so don’t worry! You can spend as much or as little time there as you want, but as I mentioned yesterday, I suggest going early on Friday to avoid craziness.

Chicago Marathon Pre Race and Athlete Village

The race basically takes over Grant and Millennium Parks. There are tents for everything, and they run with military precision, which is very much appreciated, as there are people from every state and over 100 countries, all with their own language and all about to run pretty damn far. I was lucky to be a part of two groups with dedicated spaces: Chicago Endurance Sports had their race day resort right in front of Buckingham Fountain, and Nike had their club at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. There is also the Balbo Hospitality tent, but you need tickets for that.

There is security for the marathon–akin to Marine Corps Marathon or going to a baseball game. Make sure you review what is and isn’t allowed every year and plan accordingly to get to your corral in time. I probably got in line at 6:35 and it took me maybe 10 minutes. There is gated entry (4 gates in all) and only athletes are allowed in until a certain time (and still, non athlete admission is only in particular areas).

Running the Chicago Marathon

A note on the weather:

So many people ask about the weather and the wind, and my answer is that this is an October race: weather is variable, but you have trained through the summer and should be ready for just about anything. This year the temps at the start were in the 60s (I had a throwaway shirt until the official start and (awesome narwhal) arm warmers until about mile 3) and peaked mid-70s to 80s. There have been years in the 90s and years in the 40s and 50s. Midwest weather. Note that if you are in the second wave, you are likely to get warmer because the sun will start to peak while you are on course.

Wind is the same answer: you get what you get. Chicago has variable winds–they are not necessarily always consistent, but this year were predicted around 10-15 mph. I personally had no problem with them–as one of my fellow coaches said: no one likes running in a vacuum. The sun felt warm (there was not a cloud in the sky), so those that were a little later or taking more time did have some heating problems. But as I will detail, aid and medical are plentiful.

2015 Chicago Marathon Course

This course, as said before, is known for the only inclines being over bridges, and they aren’t kidding. You run a big loop (more like a wonky flower) in, out of, and through 29 of the city’s most famous neighborhoods, and you start and finish in Grant Park. Wheelchair athletes start at 7:20. The first wave starts at 7:30, with 5 corrals and the elite starting with corral A, not in their own start. Many of the big marathons are switching to this style in the effort to make it more inclusive, and to give everyone a shot ;D The second wave starts at 8. There are pacers in each corral (corrals are generally determined by qualifying or projected race time, so the pacers are distributed accordingly). And they do enforce the closing of the corrals, so be on time, or you move to the front of the next wave. The marathon starts on time.

Speaking of time, if you want to run the fastest one, follow the blue line–it is the official course marker and it designates the tangents!

Chicago, as much as it is an “easy” course, still as its measure of difficulty: it is so flat that many people fatigue their IT Bands because they don’t get their glutes engaged. Also, the first half is very deceptive: the wind (usually) helps you uptown, the air is cool, you are with many of the other pace groups, and the course is largely shaded. Plus, the crowd is very plentiful as you go through major neighborhoods and the city center. The second half of the course takes you out into some no-man’s land type of situations (there are still people, but far fewer), you get different wind conditions, and you spend much more time in the sun.

“Mount Roosevelt” is literally a cumulative 20 ft vertical climb (if that), right before the end. Engage your glutes and power up that sucker!

Chicago Marathon Crowd Support and Course Aid

Then there’s this guy. I called him the Corral B Warden.

Let’s put it this way: 1.7 million spectators and 12, ooo volunteers congregate to cheer you on. Think about that. There is plentiful nutrition, hydration, medical and motivational support throughout the course (there are 20 aid stations in all!). Most of the charity organizations have cheering stations, Nike has 2 official cheering stations…. Chicago takes cheering at sporting events seriously, and this is no exception. Remember, after this, we pretty much go into hibernation! People tailgate the marathon like a football game (and this time, everyone’s a winner!), and this year there were 12,0000 volunteers, many of whom you might know! Thank your volunteers, people!

Headphones are optional. There is music, cheering, clappers, whatnot just about everywhere! Welcome to Chicago. We like to PARTY. There is music throughout and after finding my friend (see my recap), even after we split I never got out my headphones.

Chicago Marathon Post Race Party aka 27th Mile

It is by no means like the New York marathon, where you have to walk for miles, but it is not an immediate dump into the rest of the world. There is a decent walk after you go under the finisher’s arch and get your medal (!), but you get tons of food and a beer (age permitting), there are medical tents, and ultimately you empty out into the general admission area, where your family is. There you can meet up with people, enjoy more beer, buy more things, or simply sit on the ground and recuperate. Since I had my VIP options (sooooooo important, I am), I headed to those parties. I had planned on going to the Nike Club of Zoom, but Chicago Endurance Sport’s Race Day resort (which I talked about yesterday) was much closer and homegirl needed food and a massage ASAP.

The marathon organizers do the best they can, but remember, you are dealing with a bajillion languages, many have just run a marathon, and then you add in drinking and barricades, and well, you can imagine.

Bottom Line

This is a race for anyone and everyone. Want to sightsee? There you go. Want to run hard? You are taken care of, too. There are unlimited places to watch, the Metro (“El”) provides transport around the course, and people are friendly and willing to help. Want to feel like an elite? People will cheer for you like it. You see all kinds, from people running their first to their 100+, and many of those 100+ have come back time and again, and that tells you something. Beautifully directed, the weather is as questionable as any other marathon around, and so much history. You will see famous athletes running with regular joes, and everyone is bound in the spirit of running–both for themselves and for others. Spend the money and do the race. I can’t recommend it enough.

My 2015 Chicago Marathon Recap!

I explained my goals going into the marathon last week, but I just wanted to enjoy my race and run a smart victory lap of my city. That I did, even though I ended up working my ass of for it! Read my recap of the full race weekend!

Also, narwhal arm warmers.

I started towards the back of Corral B with plans to run 9 minutes splits, but when I started, I realized that it wasn’t going to happen (in a good way), so I just listened to my body and ended up around 8:30. With everything that I had told my crew about not starting out too soon, I’m not going to lie, I was pretty nervous. Corral C’s lead pace group (3:30), caught up with me around mile 3? in River North, and I saw my friend and fellow coach Walter who was pacing that group, and let him head on. I’ll be honest, my legs felt good, but I was already getting in my head about not knowing how I was going to be doing, already thinking about nutrition and distraction, and just not focusing on the enjoyment that I so desperately wanted to be attaining!

Around mile 5(?) I looked up and recognized a friend singlet, and knew immediately that it was my friend, and training partner from this winter, Wendy. We both ran our long runs at the same pace (letting the fasties go up a bit ahead of us), and so we are a great match, and it was amazing to see a friend. She had started in Corral C, but was looking to do a sub 3:30, and thus ended up slightly in front of me, thus how I saw her. I joined her, and before I knew it, we were doing 7:45! I HAVEN”T RUN THAT PACE SINCE SHAMROCK. Besides a few sprints at Sweat with Erin. But I wasn’t going to slow her down, I wasn’t going to run alone now that I had found her, and girl kicked my ass (in a great way) and we entertained each other like the old days for 15k (seeing friends and parents along the way) until she just had more step than me, and I let her go, and I made a pit stop, and then jumped back in, somehow at the same pace!

I took quite a bit of nutrition and hydration, but thank goodness for Sport Beans–they keep you occupied. I ran the last 8ish miles myself, and let me tell you, there were a few times in those last 4-5 that I would flag. At one point, I actually was chanting to myself about my glutes and making them work for it. I sh*t you not. I also used my I am Capable mantra! But I realized with about 10k to go that I might have a sub 3:35 in me, and that was all I needed to drag myself up and forward.

Those last two miles, though. Legs were DEAD. But I gunned that booty and powered up Mount Roosevelt–I was passing people left and right! Silly people without your glute activation 😀 and seeing that finish was everything. And seeing Wendy waiting for me right after was awesome. She bitchslapped her goal, and I floored myself with a time /1:10 shy of my PR and 15:00 better than my A goal! Final time was 3:29:58.

Yup. We #ownchicago. Congrats to all!

Thank you all again for all the support, good lucks, cheers, stalking me on the participant update. I can’t tell you how much it means to me. I also think it goes to show how you can train in a myriad of ways, but being gentle to and listening to your body is what pays off in the long run. Now to rest, get RRCA certified, and (I hope) share my knowledge and experience with even more people! I will also be back for Winter Warriors with Chicago Endurance Sports!

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